2008 Architectural Award

The worthy winner of the Trust’s Architectural Award for 2008 is Freeman’s Quay Leisure Centre. It is an elegantly distinctive building, the genius of which is best appreciated from the west, from Freeman’s Place. From here the defining feature of its broad, sloping roof can be seen over-riding the sweeping curve of the wall enclosing the pool. The series of steel beams overshooting the wall come to rest on a line of tapering and gently bevelled concrete columns, a feature suggestive of monumentalism, but on a human scale. The columns blend naturally with a parallel row of sycamore trees along Freeman’s Place.

Beneath the pergola-like structure formed by the beams, the concrete wall changes progressively to glazing as it swings round towards the entrance. Here, the tinted glass, which blends with the colour of the overhanging beams, complements the shining Lignum panelling. Inserted in the middle of the latter is a section of lighter, buff-coloured panelling, plus window, angled markedly out of the horizontal – a humorous touch appropriate for a building devoted to enjoyment or fun. Above, a gentle ‘wave’ in the roof gable might be seen to echo that of the pool. (It certainly contrasts with the rectilinearity of Walkergate.)

The full-length window, with etching, into the pool is a spectacular feature of the view from the north or Sixth Form College playing field. From here also the ‘fall’ in roof level can be fully appreciated. Towards the rear the enclosing wall appears to be bursting out of its concrete shell at first-floor level. The projecting panels may be an architectural device; they certainly reflect the compact site into which it had to fit. (Here, sports hall, fitness centre and dance studio had to be raised to the first floor.)

Inside, an immediate sense of openness facilitates a grasp of layout or orientation. There is high degree of natural lighting, pastel colour scheme, clean lines and high quality of finish. Notable among the technical installations is the floating floor of the main pool, which makes it suitable for a variety of water sports.

The Centre is the initiative of the Local Authority. Appropriate parameters were set in its Design Brief, and the promise of the selected architects’ draft – recognised by Trustees at an early stage of consultation – has been amply fulfilled. The result is a distinctive addition to the architecture of Durham; in contextual terms the structure halts and ‘civilises’ the northern advance of Walkergate.

The architects are from the William Saunders Partnership in Nottingham, under the guidance of concept designer Andrew Bottomley and Senior Partner, Chris Houldsworth. The contractor was Morgan Ashurst. Our picture shows Trust Chairman Dr John Charters presenting the plaque and certificates to Councillor Sue Pitts, Portfolio holder for Leisure and Culture at Durham City Council.

See Bulletin 66, February 2009, for details of this building and other candidates for the award.